I.C.C. Gained’t Examine China’s Detention of Muslims

The International Criminal Court has decided not to conduct an investigation into the mass detention of Muslims in China. This is a setback for activists who want to hold Beijing accountable for the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities.

Prosecutors in The Hague said Monday that they would not investigate allegations that China committed genocide and crimes against humanity related to the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, as the alleged crimes took place in China what no party to the court.

The abuses described “were only committed by nationals of China on the territory of China,” said a report by the court’s attorney general, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia.

For months, Uyghurs in exile had asked the court to investigate China’s repressive policies against Muslim minorities. This was the first attempt by activists to use the power of international law to hold Chinese officials accountable for the act. They accused the Chinese government of campaigning against torture, forced sterilization and mass surveillance against Muslims, among other things.

China has been increasingly condemned internationally for its harsh treatment of Muslims, including building huge indoctrination camps in the western region of Xinjiang. In the campaign of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., China’s actions in Xinjiang were labeled genocide, a position shared by other Western leaders.

China has denied that the camps are abusive, calling them instead as vocational training centers to fight religious extremism and terrorism, despite largely conflicting evidence.

Many Uyghurs said Tuesday that they were disappointed with the court’s decision not to open an investigation. They vowed to continue to stand up for global leaders to punish China for the abuses.

“The ICC was founded for one reason: to counter the most terrible international crimes,” said Fatimah Abdulghafur, a Uyghur poet and activist living in Australia. “The atrocities committed by the Chinese regime against Uyghurs are innumerable.”

The complaint against China was filed by two Uighur exile groups, the East Turkistan Government in Exile and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement.

Lawyers representing the Uighur groups said they were still confident that the court would open an investigation after reviewing new evidence.

“We will provide highly relevant evidence to make this possible in the coming months,” one of the lawyers, Rodney Dixon, said in a statement.

In addition to ill-treatment of Muslims within China’s borders, the groups had also campaigned for the court to investigate Beijing for the repatriation of thousands of Uyghurs from other countries, including Cambodia and Tajikistan, through illegal arrests or deportations.

In its report on Monday, the court said there was “no basis to proceed at this point” as there did not appear to be enough evidence to show that Chinese officials had committed a crime.

“Not all behavior that involves the forcible removal of people from a location necessarily constitutes a crime of rendition or deportation,” the court said.

Human rights activists said they would continue fighting to hold China accountable for its actions in Xinjiang. Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, said the decision was not a judgment on whether there were abuses.

“The facts remain: The Chinese government is committing massive, large-scale violations in Xinjiang, and those responsible should be held accountable,” she said.

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